What is Silicon Metal?

What is Silicon Metal?

Silicon metal, also known as industrial silicon or crystalline silicon, is usually produced by reducing silicon dioxide with carbon in an electric furnace. Its main uses are as additives for non-iron-based alloys and starting materials for the production of semiconductor silicon and organic silicon.

In China, silicon metal is usually classified according to the content of its three main impurities: iron, aluminum, and calcium. According to the percentage content of iron, aluminum, and calcium in silicon metal, silicon metal can be divided into different grades such as 553, 441, 411, 421, 3303, 3305, 2202, 2502, 1501, and 1101. (About the source of metal silicon numbers: the first and second codes represent the percentage content of iron and aluminum, and the third and fourth digits represent the calcium content. For example, 553 represents the iron, aluminum, and calcium content of 5% and 5%. , 3%; 3303 represents that the content of iron, aluminum, and calcium is 3%, 3%, 0.3%)


The Production Process of Silicon Metal

Metal silicon is produced using the carbothermal method, which is a method of smelting silica and carbonaceous reducing agents in a submerged arc furnace. The purity of the silicon produced in this way is 97% to 98%, and such silicon can generally be used for metallurgical purposes. If you want to obtain higher-grade silicon, you need to refine it to remove impurities to obtain silicon metal with a purity of 99.7% to 99.8%.

Smelting silicon metal using quartz sand as raw material includes quartz sand block making, charge preparation, and submerged arc furnace smelting.

Generally speaking, high-quality quartz sand will be directly used to produce high-end quartz glass products, and even processed into gem-level products such as crystal, tourmaline, and other products. Those with slightly lower grades but larger reserves, slightly better mining conditions, and cheaper surrounding electricity are suitable for the production of silicon metal.

At present, the production process route of the carbothermal method for producing metal silicon in China is: silica is commonly used as raw material, petroleum coke, charcoal, wood chips, low-ash coal, etc. are used as reducing agents, and it is smelted at high temperature in a submersible electric furnace to obtain silica from silica. Metal silicon is restored, which is a slag-free submerged arc high-temperature smelting process.

Application Fields of Silicon Metal

The downstream applications of silicon metal are mainly organic silicon, polysilicon, and aluminum alloys. China’s total consumption in 2020 is approximately 1.6 million tons, and the consumption proportion is as follows:

Organic silicon has the highest requirements for silicon metal, which requires chemical grade, and the corresponding model is 421#, followed by polysilicon, with commonly used models 553# and 441#, and aluminum alloy has the lowest requirements. However, in recent years, the demand for organic silicon and polysilicon has increased, and its proportion has increased. Large, aluminum alloy demand not only did not increase but also decreased. This is also a major factor that leads to the seemingly high silicon metal production capacity, but the low operating rate, and the serious shortage of high-grade metal silicon in the market.

Silicon Metal Production Capacity in 2022

The total global industrial silicon production capacity in 2022 will be approximately 7.783 million tons, a year-on-year increase of 15.47%, and the total production capacity has increased year-on-year. From the perspective of production capacity distribution, China, Brazil, the United States, Norway, France, Russia, and Germany are the world’s major industrial silicon producers. In 2022, the production capacity of the top 10 producing countries will account for 96.08% of the world’s total production capacity. Among them, China’s industrial silicon production capacity has an absolute advantage. In 2022, China’s industrial silicon production capacity will account for 81.05% of the world’s total production capacity.

Due to the overall good industrial silicon market conditions in 2022, some idle production capacity has been put back into production, and the production capacity of “integrated” industrial silicon projects has been put into production, resulting in a substantial increase in total domestic production capacity. According to statistics, as of 2022, my country’s industrial silicon production capacity will be 6.308 million tons. In 2022, domestic industrial silicon production will reach 3.27 million tons. The overall industrial silicon market in 2022 is good, and manufacturers are highly motivated to produce. Especially during the dry season in the first half of the year, the operating rate in the southwest region remains relatively high. Although in the second half of the year due to power shortages and the impact of the epidemic, Industrial silicon output still increased significantly throughout the year.

Silicon-Metal lumps

From the perspective of production capacity distribution, the regional characteristics of industrial silicon production capacity distribution have not changed significantly. Xinjiang, Yunnan, Sichuan, and other provinces have relatively large industrial silicon production capacity in their regions due to their advantages in electricity prices. In 2022, the combined production capacity of the southwest and northwest regions will account for 74.24%. Xinjiang has lower thermal power costs and the industrial silicon production capacity in the region will reach 2.496 million tons, accounting for 39.57% of the total production capacity. Yunnan and Sichuan provinces have advantages in water and electricity costs. The industrial silicon production capacity in the region has reached 2.187 million tons, accounting for 34.67% of the total production capacity. From the perspective of industrial silicon grades, the output of 421# industrial silicon in 2022 will be 1.178 million tons, accounting for approximately 36% of the total domestic industrial silicon output, ranking first; the output of Tongyin 553# will be approximately 818,000 tons, accounting for 25%; the output of 441# industrial silicon is about 556,000 tons, accounting for 17%; the output of oxygen-free 553# industrial silicon is about 327,000 tons, accounting for 10%.

Overall, due to the rapid development of photovoltaic installed capacity, the consumption of 441# industrial silicon has increased, and the production proportion has increased compared with 2021. my country is a major exporter of industrial silicon, and industrial silicon exported from my country accounts for more than 40% of total overseas consumption. From 2013 to now, my country’s industrial silicon imports have been very small. As a major industrial silicon producer, my country’s exports are large and relatively stable. In 2022, my country’s industrial silicon exports will be 638,900 tons. As of the first quarter of 2023, my country’s industrial silicon exports will be 147,200 tons, a year-on-year decrease of 17.48%, and the export value was US$469 million, a year-on-year decrease of 30.02%.

The Future Trend of Silicon Metal

In the next 5 to 10 years, the market demand for silicon metal will continue to increase steadily. As cars become more popular in more and more places, the amount of silicon metal used in the aluminum alloy industry will continue to increase. In addition, the chemical industry will also become the main driving force for the increase in demand for silicon metal.

Judging from the current development trend of the industrial chain, the following new changes may occur in the industrial silicon market in the next few years, which will affect the development of the entire industry: First, the dividends of power reform and the uncertainty of self-supplied power grids; second, the market Demand may experience low or zero growth; finally, new technologies, production, and sales models impact the entire market.


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